Equitable Clean Energy for Communities
Working to expand clean energy access to all communities, especially those who are climate-vulnerable and have historically had the least access to the benefits of clean energy due to systemic inequities.
Despite expanded access, the benefits of clean energy haven’t been equally distributed across the United States due to longstanding systemic racial and economic inequities. Low-income and communities of color have been historically excluded from energy decision-making and planning processes. As a result, clean energy access and energy burdens vary greatly based upon household income, homeownership status and racial demographics. Black-and-Hispanic-majority census tracts, for example, have significantly less rooftop solar installed and spend more of their income on energy bills. Low-income and communities of color additionally face barriers like the high upfront cost of technology, lower rates of homeownership, condition of housing stock, lack of rooftop access for renters, inability to access financing, complicated or hard-to-access clean energy incentives and more.
Overcoming barriers to equitable energy access requires deep and ongoing community engagement, collaboration and new partnership models. It also will require new incentives, ownership structures, and business and financing models.
The WRI U.S. Energy Program — as part of the City Renewables Accelerator — has supported cities in peer learning and participation in community solar programs. WRI support in this arena has included procurement guidance, peer learning cohorts and tracking community solar purchases by cities nationally (collectively, cities purchased about 550 MW of solar in 2022).
The WRI Energy Program has also engaged with local housing nonprofits and utilities to advance pilot programs and program design ideas that increase access to community solar for low-income households. This work has included helping create a pilot community solar “gifting” program with the local Habitat for Humanity organization in Lincoln, Nebraska. It also involved working with the Kentucky state affiliate of Habitat for Humanity and the utilities LG&E and KU around the expansion of their community solar “gifting” program.
The WRI team has also engaged with local housing nonprofits and utilities to advance pilot programs and program design ideas that increase access to community solar for low-income households. This work has included helping create a pilot community solar “gifting” program with the local Habitat for Humanity organization in Lincoln, Nebraska. It also involved working with the Kentucky state affiliate of Habitat for Humanity and the utilities LG&E and KU around the expansion of their community solar “gifting” program.
- Webinar: Advancing Energy Equity through Community Solar
- Article: How Community Solar Can Benefit Low- and Moderate-Income Customers
- Article: Innovative Partnerships Bring Community Solar to Low-income Households in the US
- Article: How Local Governments Can Advance Community Solar for Low- and Moderate-Income Households
Equitable Clean Energy for Cities
Cities play an important role in not only harnessing more clean power for their residents, but also ensuring that the benefits of doing so are distributed equitably. WRI’s U.S. Energy Program provides education and support to cities and counties, alongside local partners like school districts, community-based organizations, universities, housing authorities and more. This has included training on topics like equity-centered, scenario-based planning for community-level energy policy; peer-learning cohorts on financing strategies for a more equitable energy future; and inclusive Solarize campaigns, which are community-level group purchasing campaigns that aim to lower acquisition costs for solar PV.
Through the City Renewables Accelerator, WRI tracked cities’ readiness to implement the Biden administration’s Justice40 Initiative. In early 2022, the team interviewed officials from six cities and published an article with our findings, which sought to answer the question, “How Prepared are US Cities to Implement the Justice40 Initiative?” WRI has also published a paper on Integrating Equity into City Clean Energy Initiatives, which provides detailed guidance to cities and explores many of the key equity considerations for a variety of clean energy initiatives. This paper accompanies an article outlining seven ways cities can center equity in clean energy initiatives.
Finally, WRI supports local governments seeking to raise equity considerations in state and regional forums. The PJM Cities and Communities Coalition, with the assistance of WRI, published a policy statement calling for the wholesale market to fairly value battery storage contributions to the grid, especially given the co-benefits associated with advancing environmental justice goals. Additionally, WRI facilitated collaboration between several local governments in North Carolina that led to a filing in an Integrated Resource Planning process that explicitly emphasized equity and low-income-focused programming.
- Report: Integrating Equity into City Clean Energy Initiatives
- Project: Equitable Clean Energy Planning
- Article: 7 Ways US Cities Can Make Clean Energy Initiatives More Equitable
- Article: How Prepared Are US Cities to Implement the Justice40 Initiative?
- Article: New local campaigns can bring cheaper and cleaner rooftop solar to communities of color
- Article: 3 Hurdles to Racial Justice in Clean Energy – and 3 Ways US Cities Can Overcome Them
Equitable Transportation Electrification
Recent years have seen an explosion in interest and investment in electric vehicles. While this is a welcome development on the path to 100% clean energy, critical efforts must be made to ensure that the benefits of clean transport are seen by all and not the most privileged few. WRI centers equity in its transportation electrification work, most notably in the Electric School Bus Initiative. The ESBI aims to build unstoppable momentum toward electrification of the entire U.S. school bus fleet by 2030, bringing health, climate and economic benefits to children and families, especially those who have the least or have been the last to benefit from development and transport innovations in the United States.
WRI has also run city peer learning cohorts on equitable and grid-friendly EV charging infrastructure deployment, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy and National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
Finally, the U.S. Energy Program has work related to equity in electric vehicle rate design and vehicle-to-grid technology, with a priority of enhancing resilience in disadvantaged communities.
- Article: Electric School Buses Can Fight – or Further— Inequity in the US
- Article: 3 Design Considerations for Electric School Bus Vehicle-to-Grid Programs
- Webpage: How the ESB Initiative Centers Equity
- Report: The Equity Framework to Guide the Electric School Bus Initiative
- Webpage: Prioritizing Equity in Providing Technical Assistance to Underserved School Districts under WRI’s Electric School Bus Initiative
City Renewables AcceleratorLaunch PlatformLaunch Platform Visit Project
Helping U.S. cities advance ambitious renewable energy goals.Part of Clean Energy
Electric School Bus InitiativeLaunch PlatformLaunch Platform Visit Project
Collaborating to equitably electrify the U.S. school bus fleet.Part of Cities